Sunday, February 8, 2015


A Book of Words

Rudyard Kipling

France and Britain 

Annual Banquet of the France-Grande Bretagne Association
Cercle Interallief, Paris: July 1931

A FEW WEEKS AG0 I visited your wonderful Colonial Exhibition, and it recalled to me the time when as a boy of twelve I came to Paris with my father to the Exposition of '78.

He was in charge of the Fine Arts exhibits from India, and the arrangement of them kept him very busy, for in those days expositions were not always complete even after they had been formally opened. So he presented me with a free pass to everything and told me to run away and play while he worked. I obeyed him—filially I obeyed him for five glorious weeks.

There stood in the Trocadero gardens the bronze head of your great Bartholdi's statue of Liberty enlightening the world. For a sou one could climb up into that vast and vacant cranium and look out through its empty eyeballs into the secure and gracious world of Paris beneath.

I went there often, and one time the Guardian said to me, 'See here, you small Englishman—never forget that for once in your life you have looked through the very eyes of Liberty herself.' And I did not forget.

But I omitted to notice then—what I have often noticed since—that Liberty has not eyes at the back of her head to guard against dangers that may overtake her. It is bold to look forward. It is wise to look backward.

Our two countries can look back together for many years. They were the first to disentangle themselves from the confusion that followed the fall of Rome and to stand apart as civilising nations.
During that process it was organically necessary for England to assimilate the French conquerors which you had sent over. They would not learn English. It was equally vital for France to eliminate the English invaders whom we had sent over to you. It is true that they had tried for a hundred years to improve your tactics and strategy. You complained and with justice that they ruined your country.

Now we have evolved the exclusively English-speaking tourist who annually invades your pleasant land but who does not ruin your country—in the same way. This minor adjustment, typical of so many others, took only five or six hundred years. Naturally it was accompanied by certain differences of opinion: but long before the end of that epoch those differences were regulated by conventions almost as strict as those which rule the composition of your classical poetry or the etiquette of our national English game.

As an instance do you remember your Commodore Du Casse's immortal letter to our Admiral Benbow? It was after a sea-fight near Hayti—nearly two hundred and thirty years ago—when for personal or political reasons five of Benbow's ships deserted him at the beginning of the action. Benbow attacked Du Casse's squadron of four ships with his rermaining two. He was beaten off, and returned to Jamaica in his battered flagship wounded to die.

A few days after the action Du Casse sent in by a frigate under cartel a letter to Benbow, which I quote textually: 'Sir, I had little hope on Monday last but to have supped in your cabin' (meaning, of course, "as your prisoner"). 'But it pleased God to order it otherwise. I am thankful for it. As for those cowardly captains who deserted you, hang them up, for by God they deserve it.'

My friends, our unregenerate ancestors used language which we, their more highly civilised sons, must deplore; but mon Dieu! they understood each other jusqu'au bout. At the present moment the background against which these gallant gentlemen played their parts has vanished as utterly as their wooden ships. All the apparatus they employed has been changed beyond recognition, except, curiously enough, the anchor which prevents vessels from drifting.

In place of these things mankind everywhere has been overtaken by the magic of new mechanism, which has saved them so much labour that it seems to save the exertion of thought.

We have caused space to shrink so enormously that in another generation it will practically cease to exist. We have added such far-reaching powers to our senses that a fly's footfall on paper or the murmur of a weak heart can be amplified to equal the reverberations of a drum.

Is it any wonder that this congestion—this apoplexy —of daily wonders should waken hope that the world itself can be speeded up and amplified so as to give men without too much thought an immediate millennium?

The obstacle to this achievement is man's inveterate instinct not to confide his weight to a branch till he has tested it.

At any rate the instinct forms part of the reserve of earliest experience by which the lives of men are unconsciously stabilised. And our two peoples between them possess the largest reserve of this experience in our first-hand proven knowledge of each other's characters, failings, and necessities.

This triple knowledge has served us well. It has led us through the ages to a very distinguished respect for each other, ashore or afloat. It furnishes to each of us patience and confidence through our recent ordeal by fire. And it now underlies our friendship.

A Book of Words

Selections from speeches and addresses
delivered between 1906 and 1927
This is one of the six later speeches not included in that collection which were added for the Sussex Edition

"France and Britain" 

Association France-Grande Bretagne
Cercle Interalliée, Paris, 2 July 1931

Notes edited
by Leonee Ormond
The speech  
Notes on XXXIV  
Notes on XXXVI  

[April 11th 2011]


Published in pamphlet form, Doubleday, New York, 1931 as "Address at the Annual Banquet of the France Grande Bretagne Association". A short version was published in The Times for 4 July 1931, page 11. Collected in the Sussex Edition vol. XXV, pp. 309-14, together with the earlier speeches collected in A Book of Words, and in the Burwash Edition vol. XXIV.


Kipling was the guest of honour at the Banquet. From the chair, the diplomat, archaeologist and writer, the Marquis de Vogué (1848-1910), told his audience that Kipling was loved in France for his writing, and also for his love of the country. After his speech, M. Reynard (1878-1966), the Minister for the Colonies, again thanked Kipling for his friendship to France.

After hearing the speech, the art historian and literary historian, Louis Gillet (1876-1943), asked Kipling to write Souvenirs de France, published in French and in English in 1933.

See also his poem "France", and the stories "The Bull that Thought" (Debits and Credits)"The Miracle of Saint Jubanus"(Limits and Renewals), and "The First Assault upon the Sorbonne£.

Kipling began by recalling his childhood visit to Paris for the Exhibition Universelle. Speaking of the relationship between France and Britain, he noted the history of invasions of one by the other, taking the gentlemanly understanding of two warring admirals as an example of mutual respect. He recalled the First World War, and declared his belief in the friendship of the two nations.

Notes on the text

(the page and line numbers below refer to Volume XXV of the
Sussex Edition of Kipling's works, Macmillan, London 1938).

[Page 311 line 2] Colonial Exhibition held in Paris in 1931.

[Page 311 line 4] Exposition of ’78 the "Exposition Universelle" or Third World’s Fair. Kipling describes his time at the esposition in Something of Myself, pp 24-25.

[Page 311 line 13] Trocadero gardens in Paris, on the site of the Palais de Chaillot and opposite the Eiffel Tower. The Palais de Trocadéro was built for the Exposition Universelle and the head of Liberty stood in the garden during the exhibition.

[Page 311 line 14] Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904), French sculptor. His Statue of Liberty has stood in New York Harbour since 1885.

[Page 312 line 8] French conquerors the Norman invasion of England under William the Conqueror took place in 1066. Kipling may also be thinking of the accession of Henry II, the first Plantagenet or Angevin king, in 1154.

[Page 312 lines 10-11] English invaders Kipling is referring to the Hundred Years War against France, which began in 1337 during the reign of Edward III (1312-77). It ended with the French capture of Bordeaux in 1453.

[Page 312 line 25] our national English game cricket. It never aroused Kipling's enthusiasm.

[Page 312 lines 26-27] Commodore Du Casse Jean-Baptiste Du Casse (1646-1715).

[Page 312 line 27] Admiral Benbow John Benbow (1653-1702) was a Vice Admiral of the Royal Navy. Having met a French fleet under Du Casse off Santa Marta in the West Indies, he pursued it in his flagship, HMS Breda, but was, as Kipling says, forced to retire because his captains protested and refused to support him. He died of his wounds in Jamaica soon afterwards.

[Page 313 line 14] jusqu’au bout To the end, completely.

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